Back in 2008, after I saved up and bough some decent gear, I talked my best friend Jen into coming on a backpacking trip with me.
The pack I eventually ended up buying was an Osprey Ariel 75 – since my previous pack seemed to small to carry everything I would need, I was unsure about what size to get so naturally I bought the absolute biggest bag I could find – I figured it would be good to have the extra room and it had a ton of compression straps so that if I didn’t fill it up it wouldn’t be a big deal. Unfortunately what they say is true about packs – if you have the space, you will find something to fill it up with – and boy did I ever. Since this was my 1st backpacking trip I wasn’t sure what I would need – so I brought EVERYTHING, literally! We planned on making it a 3 day/ 2 night trip so I brought a change of clothes for each day plus an extra pair and clothes to sleep in- all were cotton as I didn’t have any moisture wicking clothes. I brought tons of extra batteries as that is what I read online, even though all my gear was new, my pocket rocket backpacking stove to cook food with and 2 fuel canisters as again I read you should bring a spare in case you ran out. I hate to admit I even brought makeup, a razor, 2 books, a deck of cards, a mug, headlamp, flashlight, AND lantern, a pillow, plus the tent, food, and my sleeping bag – my pack easily weighed 55lbs – if not more. It was packed to the BRIM with things – more than I would need for a WEEK on the trail, but again we had no idea and wanted to be prepared. Jen ended up using the LL BEAN pack that I bought as that was the only spare I had.
I bought the book Backpacking Pennsylvania: 37 Great Hikes which I still use today – this book is a great resource and was where I first heard of World’s End State Park which is in northeastern PA and the many hiking and backpacking trails that go through that area. Just the name of the place sounded intriguing – and there were waterfalls – so I thought this would be the perfect place for my 1st backpacking trip. We decided to do the Loyalsock-Link loop which was listed in the book as a 17 mile, moderate trail. As I remember it, there was a little confusion regarding if we did/ did not need to register and we had to keep driving back and forth between Worlds End and the Loyalsock State Forest as no one seemed to know. We eventually filled out some forms and were on our way! We pulled into the parking lot on Meade Road and hiked down to the Haystack Rapids – this was such a beautiful area, I could have spent the entire weekend there. We meandered along the trail for a while and then the trail started turning away from the water and eventually we were unsure where to go. We came to a steep bank and looked left and right, no markers. Eventually we look up – and there was a marker – of course. “Are they serious?” we said, “That can not possibly be the trail!” but of course it was so we started the steep climb up and away from the water.
It was such a great feeling when we finally made it to the top! We were invincible! Nothing was gonna stop us now and we were pleasantly surprised to be hiking on old logging roads for a while. But what goes up, must come down. We began to descend and I trip – over a rock, over a root, over my own two feet, it didn’t matter I was falling and falling fast. I slam face first into the dirt and sort of slide/ tumble down the rest of the hill where I stopped face down with a 55+ pound pack on top of me – I could not move. Jen came running up behind me trying to help. “Do not touch me.” I say through the leaves and dirt as I mentally assessed my situation. I was more humiliated than hurt. After I caught my breath again she helped hoist my pack off of me and I realized I had twisted my ankle and it started to swell. AWESOME – this was our FIRST DAY and I hurt myself already. Jen carried my pack as we hiked on to a nearby bridge that went over the water where I took my shoes and socks off to soak my sore ankle for a bit. I have no idea how she carried both incredibly heavy packs, but she did! Eventually we continued on to Sones Pond (I was once again carrying my pack) and set up camp for the night, my ankle throbbing the entire way.
We had an excellent campsite right next to the pond. After we ate dinner, it was starting to get dark so we made our first attempt at hanging a bear bag – we got it up in the tree and tied the line to another tree, but it was definitely far from perfect.
We changed and crawled into the tent as there were no fires aloud. You don’t realize how extremely dark it gets in the middle of the woods and how quickly it reaches this level of darkness. We also realized as we were laying there that we had pitched the tent on a slightly uneven spot and all the blood was rushing to our heads. We turned around in the tent which was more comfortable as our head was now higher than our feet and settled in.
It seems that every noise seems 10 times louder in the woods at night. We could hear things walking around – they all sounded like Big Foot. One of us was more scared of people getting us and the other was more scared of bears – I honestly forget who was more scared of what as we were both scared of both. We started telling each other stories to get our minds off of being alone in the woods for the 1st time.
I have to tell you, Jen’s voice is the most soothing voice I have ever heard in my life – she started telling me a story about her then boyfriend (now husband) and I drifted off to sleep – or maybe passed out from scaring myself with all the noises going on outside of the tent. I woke up a few hours later – unfortunately Jen did NOT fall asleep – I felt HORRIBLE! She had to sit wide awake all night with no one to talk to – and I was the one who talked her into going on the trip in the 1st place!
At the 1st signs of daylight we got up and made breakfast – Nothing stole our food – SUCCESS!! 🙂 After we were done with that I started to brush my teeth, when I went to spit I noticed some green bits on my toothbrush. I didn’t eat anything green – I looked a little closer–it was mold, mold was growing on my toothbrush and I just USED IT (twice actually because I used it the night before)! I started spitting as much as possible, although I doubt it helped. I had grabbed my toothbrush from my travel bag that is always stored in one of those plastic tubes—and apparently I hadn’t used it in a while – a long while. Gross. Although my dad told me later that they make Penicillin out of mold so I should be fine – I never did look into if that was true….
We packed up our things, amazingly our bags doubled in weight overnight, or so it seemed. Looking at the map we realized we would be able to take a road most of the way back to the car, not the most scenic route, but we were both tired and my ankle was killing me.
We ended up driving around Worlds End when we got back to the car and did a little more hiking without our packs – it is such a beautiful area and has remained one of my favorite places to visit in PA. Here’s a few more pictures from the trip:
I wasn’t sure what to expect for our 1st backpacking trip and even though it didn’t go quite as planned, it was still a wonderful experience with my best friend. We had survived a night alone in the woods when everyone else said we were nuts – we could OFFICIALLY call ourselves backpackers! I definitely learned a lot about backpacking – you can do as much research online as you want, but you have to just get out there and try it to find out what work for you!
Lesson #1 The terrain difficulty is relative – I have been on trails listed as difficult that felt like a stroll in the park and trails listed as moderate where I would give them a little more of a difficult rating (like this trail!). Since everyone’s abilities are different and every trail is rated by a different person, I would do some research online to see what the majority thinks about the trail and go by that. There are so many great websites now for this – trust me you can find a review on ANYTHING online!
Lesson #2 PACK LIGHT!! Remember YOU have to carry it all for the length of your trip. You do NOT need to bring multiple changes of clothes, multiple books, etc.. Seriously assess how long your trip is and what you TRULY need/ will actually use and go from there. It would even be beneficial to go on a few hikes while carrying your pack to get used to carrying the weight. Oh and check your gear before you head out – so you don’t end up bringing a moldy toothbrush like I did. 🙂
Lesson #3 Everything sounds louder at night – what was probably squirrels and raccoons sounded like bears stomping around. There are still times when I am seriously wondering what is going on outside my tent, but I know now not EVERY noise is a bear!